America's Best Leaders: Q&A with Bill Shore, Founder of Share our Strength
Who's the leader, past or present, who has inspired you most?
Sen. Gary Hart.
What was it about him?
His belief in and respect for the power of ideas.
Do you find yourself patterning your leadership style after him?
. . . How about a mentor?
I'm consistently learning from Jeff Swartz [president and CEO of Timberland, a long-established Share Our Strength partner] and Danny Meyer [founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group of restaurants in New York City and another Share Our Strength partner]. Jeff and Danny both have high expectations . . . [and] they know when to readjust to changing circumstances.
Also, my sister, Debbie [who helped found Share Our Strength]. We talk a lot.
Warren Bennis, the noted leadership scholar and the chairman of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard, says, "Everybody agrees that there is less leadership today than there used to be." Do you agree? Why or why not?
There's a lot of what I call artificial leadership in this countryyou can go to an airport bookstore and pick up books on leadership by Colin Powell and . . . [Shore names several other writers]. The irony is they all instruct you to lead by following someone else! But maybe it's harder for the real leadership to get through the chatter. . . . Maybe it also has to do with the fact that this is a less tolerant, less forgiving society.
Great leaders know that their deficiencies can't be ignored. What are yours? And how do you address them?
I know I have some deficits as a manager. I address them by hiring talented people who have skills that complementsupplementmine. I'm not really a manager. . . . Some people say I have a short attention spanI'm working on that oneand my financial skills are not what they might be.
What were your most difficult moments and how did you get through them?
For the first three years there were lots of them. First of all, there was not much positive reinforcement at first. I was on the campaign trail for three years after we got started and I'd call in to Debbie [his sister]we had no money and no visitors. But one of the advantages we had is that for some reason we always have had a long-term view of this: 25 years.
Second, the year Share Our Strength  started was the year of LiveAid, USA for Africa, "We Are the World," Hands Across America . . . people in my own family kept asking me, "Why don't you go to work for one of the big guys?"
The answer was, "Because five years from now they're not going to be there." It forced us to find our own path.
What about the recent decision to focus on ending childhood hunger?
It was a big challenge for us. Boy, it really put us out there on a limb. But it can be very motivating and inspiring to have a big goal. We have analyzed childhood hunger; it's ambitious but not impossible.
Great leaders empower others to become leaders themselves. Can you give us an example of how you knew you had succeeded in this role?
There are lots of examples. Danny Meyer would have been a leader in the restaurant industry anyway, but he's a leader in the philanthropic community now. [Chef] Noel Cunningham in Denver heads his own organization. Same thing with Andy Husbands in Boston; he's seen as a leader in antihunger efforts in his hometown.
Some of our volunteer organizers have become very strong in their own right. Amelia Hard in Portland, Ore., sold her business to go full time.
I have a story for every city. And it creates a legacy effect.
Jim Collins, who wrote Built to Last and Good to Great about companies that managed to achieve enduring greatness, has a discussion about whether those companies experienced "miracle moments"sudden breakthroughs that made them realize they had undergone a huge transformation. Did you have a miracle moment?
One was when we realized we'd created value for companies other than philanthropic value.
The other was early on when we realized we had named the organization Share Our Strength. We kind of understood what it meant, but the breakthrough moment came when people said they didn't want to write a check. . . . Anne Tyler, down in Baltimore, wrote a story for us! -Peter Meredith